United States health authorities, shipping services and hospitals stood ready on Friday to immediately launch a mass-inoculation campaign of unparalleled dimension, as federal regulators granted emergency approval to the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
Last-minute preparations for the vaccine rollout came as the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic approached 300,000 to date, capping weeks of ominously surging infections and hospitalizations that have strained healthcare systems to their limits.
Another 2,902 U.S. deaths were reported on Thursday, a day after a record 3,253, a pace projected to continue over the next two to three months even as distribution of available vaccine supplies ramps up.
The first shots could be administered as early as within 24 hours, President Donald Trump said, spearheading an effort widely seen as pivotal in ultimately vanquishing a pandemic that has upended daily life in the United States and devastated its economy.
Moving with unprecedented speed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved emergency use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc with its German partner BioNTech.
Britain, Bahrain, Canada and Mexico have already approved the Pfizer vaccine, and the U.S. advisory panel is due to review a second vaccine, from Moderna Inc, next week.
Delivery companies United Parcel Service and FedEx Corp stood ready to ship millions of doses across the country under contract with the federal government, giving top priority to the vaccines on their airplanes and trucks.
Plans call for U.S. marshals to provide security for vaccine shipments from manufacturing facilities to distribution sites, including acting as escorts for delivery trucks.
Healthcare workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities are expected to be the first recipients for shots, with initial limitations on supplies meaning most of the general public will have to wait months for the vaccines to become widely available.
The Indiana University Health center, one of the first hospitals designated to administer the vaccine, rehearsed its vaccination procedures on Friday, with pharmacists, nurses and doctors taking part in drills for storing, transporting and giving actual shots to patients.
The U.S. rollout faces significant logistical challenges to meet President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of inoculating 100 million people - about a third of the U.S. population - within 100 days of his inauguration on Jan. 20.
But any American who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by May or June, Assistant U.S. Health Secretary Brett Giroir told Fox News on Friday.
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